There are close to 13,000 students with IEPs enrolled in DCPS and DC public charter schools. Studies show that students with disabilities are more likely than their peers without disabilities to experience unemployment, lower pay, and higher job dissatisfaction. Experts agree that for students with disabilities having work and work-based experiences as a student are vital to a productive transition to independent adulthood.
The DC Special Education Cooperative’s (Co-op) innovative Alternative Spring Break provides an effective and valuable conduit for up to 25 young adults with disabilities (all DC charter school students) to build pathways to successful lives that include independence, employment and productivity.
Career preparation is critically important for all young people as they transition to employment, but especially for young people with disabilities. In order to be prepared to enter the work force, young people with disabilities need to gain as many real work experiences as they can, as early as they can. Early work experiences help young people learn about proper business etiquette and soft skills, as well as professional expectations. It can help them determine what type of career they are most interested in and the steps they must undertake in order to achieve their goals. The Department of Labor and many community organizations have embraced the effort of “work early and work often” for students with disabilities. Learn more at: www.thenytc.org/workearly.
This is exactly what the Co-op’s Alternative Spring Break provided in Spring 2016. 25 high school students who have learning challenges and disabilities ranging from autism to intellectual and developmental disabilities will spent their spring break week in an intensive one-week program. These students experienced a typical workweek, arriving on time each day, dressing professionally, learning money management for the workplace (cost of transportation, lunch, etc.) and expanding their workplace skills such as networking and teamwork, accepting feedback and workplace communication. Faculty for this innovative program included a former military officer, special education teachers from Washington Latin PCS and DCPS and the Co-op’s Transition Specialist, Rebecca Foster, who developed this project.
In a partnership with the DC Rehabilitative Services Agency (RSA) the students who successfully completed all five days participated in interviews for potential employment during the summer of 2016.
This was certainly a learning experience for our community and employers as well. Employment levels of people with disabilities are exceptionally low (32%) compared to those without disabilities (72.7%). (US DOL/ODEP) The Co-op has tapped local businesses to provide services (such as makeovers from Wanda’s on 7th) and work experiences for the student participants. People with disabilities are an untapped talent pool, and are known to be loyal, hard-working and dedicated employees with low turnover rates. Businesses and employers need to hire individuals with disabilities and through the Alternative Spring Break the Co-op is creating an opportunity for local employers to explore this workforce.
Meet some of our students from Alternative Spring Break 2016(ASB):
Corinthian, a senior at Kingsman PCS, she is interested in building her connections with other students across the district while exploring a career in cosmetology.
Elijah, a senior at Washington Latin PCS. His goal is to gain valuable work experience during ASB to build his resume working in politics and civil service.
Dontavian, a senior at KIPP is very excited to explore career options such as acting, and occupational therapy.
Kiara, a senior at KIPP is described by her teachers as a very trustworthy student who interested in being a psychologist. Over ASB her goal is to learn new things and gain exposure to working in a professional environment.